Tag Archives: HSE

Toxic pesticides: will Hawaiians get a better deal than Brits?

24 Mar

As a 2015 post on a related website said, Self-regulation is not effective: reconsider. From the recent horsemeat scandal, to the frequent withdrawals of harmful medicines and the banking collapse, it can be seen that self-regulation of food, pharmaceutical and banking corporates is not working. Many other sectors are failing – notably accountancy and the trade in illicit armaments. To these sectors we now add the agrochemical industry.

Earlier this month a post was prompted by Richard Bruce who drew attention to a case reported by Reuters in February; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had won a settlement from Syngenta, after dozens of workers at Syngenta Seeds’ former research farm on Kauai, Hawaii were exposed to the neurotoxic pesticide chlorpyrifos in 2016 and 2017.

Readers learnt that Hawaii is now considering bills in the state’s House and Senate (above) to ban chlorpyrifos, as well as a proposal to require farmers to notify the public when they use certain pesticides and to create buffer zones around some schools.

Richard commented, (based on personal experience), “Interestingly in the UK there is no requirement to post warnings after spraying crops – and most of us never get warnings before use either!”

This assertion is confirmed by two answers in the online FAQs section of The Health and Safety Executive, part of the DWP responsible for the encouragement, regulation and enforcement of workplace health, safety and welfare, and for research into occupational risks in Britain:

  1. Does the local farmer have to tell me when he is going to spray pesticides?

It is good practice, but except in some circumstances it is not a legal requirement to notify neighbours of an intention to spray pesticides (see section 3.7 of the ‘Code of practice for using plant protection products’ for further information on when members of the public should be informed). It would be difficult for farmers or other pesticide users to notify neighbours of planned pesticide use on all occasions because weather conditions play a significant part in determining when spraying takes place. It is not uncommon for spraying to occur at short notice or at times which seem unusual. Equally, it is not uncommon for spraying to be cancelled or postponed at short notice if the weather changes suddenly.

  1. How do I find out what pesticides a local farmer has been spraying?

By law, all professional users must keep records for at least 3 years of all the pesticides applications they undertake. The ‘Code of practice for using plant protection products’ explains how they might record this information. You can ask the farmer about what pesticides they have been using. They will usually just tell you, although they do not currently need to by law (Ed: a scandal!).

The Good Neighbour Initiative

Government ministers asked the National Farmers Union to collaborate with industry partners and interested stakeholders to draw up a ‘good neighbour’ guide to advise and assist farmers and crop sprayers using pesticides where people are living or working nearby.

As a result the NFU published the Best Practice Leaflet (opp) which may be read here.

Explicit sanctions advocated

Years ago, the Academy of Management Journal published  Industry Self-Regulation Without Sanctions: The Chemical Industry’s Responsible Care Program (A.A. King, New York University). The findings of this study highlighted the potential for opportunism to overcome the pressures of powerful self-regulatory institutions; they suggested that effective industry self-regulation is difficult to maintain without explicit sanctions.

This country has a shameful history of denying the reality of the damage to health inflicted by government agencies and wealthy and powerful agro-chemical and pharmaceutical industries. They delay this for as many years as possible before they acknowledge faulty and compensate the victims. Many GPs, for a variety of reasons, conclude that these patients have a psychological condition rather than a physical one – as Richard Bruce says sardonically:

“Of course we in the UK are a different human species and cannot be poisoned – we only imagine the symptoms out of a fear of chemicals!”

Britain’s organic market has had six years of steady growth and is now worth £2.2 billion, growing 6% in 2017. The amount of farmland in conversion to organic rose 22% last year, as farmers responded to the rise in demand for organic produce. 

In time will this trend, reported in a related website, drive out bad practice which is injuring and killing British citizens?

 

 

 

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Much ado about an OP nerve-agent: but hundreds of British farmers were poisoned – compelled by government to use OP dips

13 Mar

Senior ministers have been told that the nerve agent used to poison Sergei and Yulia Skripal in in Salisbury, on Sunday 4 March 2018 near Porton Down, has been identified by Porton Down experts as the organophosphate Novichock. Porton Down’s research focus has successively been known as Chemical Warfare, Chemical Defence, Chemical & Biological Defence and now Defence Science and Technology. Areas of concern are outlined here. Early British collaboration with American chemical warfare research (aka ‘field studies’) is acknowledged here.

In 2015 the Guardian reported that a cross-party MPs called for an inquiry into the compulsory use of dangerous chemicals called organophosphates (OPs), used to protect livestock from parasites. The Farmers Weekly reported that the Sheep Dip Sufferers Support Group repeated this call in 2016

The problem was first identified by Dr Goran Jamal, a Kurdish-born neurologist working in Glasgow, who later gave evidence of OP-related Gulf War Syndrome. Read Booker’s compelling account in Scared to Death: From BSE to Global Warming: Why Scares are Costing Us the Earth, or extracts from it here.

In his autobiography, BBC Countryfile presenter Adam Henson wrote: “the authorities realized that they were poisoning a lot of farmers”. In Countryfile Magazine (9.6.17) he wrote (snapshot of page, above right)

BBC Countryfile Magazine made the following points below:

  • OPs were originally created as a nerve gas and were developed during the Second World War. In 1951 Lord Zuckerman, who would go on to become the government’s chief scientist, warned of the dangers of allowing farmers to use OPs. Zuckerman raised concerns that farmers could absorb the poison through skin or inhalation. Read the legal noticepublished by Minister of Agriculture and Fishery regarding the harmful effects of Ops in 1951. Read a report published by Tim Farron, MP, stating that Government knew about the harmful effects of OPs.
  • Zuckerman called for farmers to be given detailed instructions for the use of OPs and for the substance to be labelled as deadly poison, although neither suggestion would be adopted until the 1980s.
  • Dipping sheep became compulsory in the late 1970s, and the use of OPs specifically was mandated by the British government until 1992. Read abstract at Small Ruminant Research.
  • In 1981 an advice leaflet was produced by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) that warned against the dangers of using OPs, citing that the chemicals could be absorbed through the skin. A report from the HSE in 1990showed growing concerns over the use of the chemicals.
  • UCL’s Dr Sarah MacKenzie Ross reviewed existing scientific evidence in 2013 and found that 13 out of 16 studies showed evidence of neurological problems following long-term, low-level exposure to Ops. Long-term health issues linked to OP poisoning also include multiple sclerosis and memory issues.  (Ed; we add her work in Neurotoxicology and Teratology, Volume 32, Issue 4, 2010, abstract here.)
  • In April 2014 MPs called for a ‘Hillsborough-style’ inquiry into the sheep-dip poisoning, with Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham called it a “major scandal”. Source: Agri Wales.

A saga of missing medical records

In the Telegraph, Booker pointed out that the health of thousands of farmers and their families had been destroyed by using highly toxic organo-phosphate (OP) chemicals to dip their sheep, as a protection against parasites. When the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) commissioned its own internal study into this disaster, its findings in 1991 were so devastating that they had to be ruthlessly suppressed. The survey, later released under a freedom of information request, said:

“Repeated absorption of small doses [can] have a cumulative effect and can result in progressive inhibition of nervous system cholinesterase.”

The Manchester Evening News published an early photograph of Littleborough farmer, the late Brenda Sutcliff with her husband Harold. She and three family members became ill after using a government-recommended sheep dip.  No active, healthy old age for her – but her persistent campaigning was recognised and celebrated by many (below left).

Details of a sheep dipping survey were released by the Health and Safety Executive following a Freedom of Information Request by the Sheep Dip Sufferers Group. The HSE survey examined sheep dipping facilities and practices on a representative sample of 696 farmers across 16 different regions of Britain. See also: Minister pledges to re-examine OP sheep dip files

But in the same month as this report was published internally – May 1991 – the farming minister at the time, John Gummer, was demanding that local authorities clamp down on farmers who refused to use the chemical.

The report found 160 occasions where some form of ill-health occurred after dipping. It also criticised manufacturers for providing inadequate protective clothing and unclear instructions to farmers on how to use the chemicals: “If with all the resources available to them, a major chemical company proves unable to select appropriate protective equipment, what hope is there for an end-user?” Booker commented that ministers were only too aware that the government had forced the farmers to use these chemicals, which its own Veterinary Medicines Directorate had licensed as safe to use and ends:

“Although in 1992, the government quietly dropped the compulsory use of OPs for dipping, without explanation, a succession of Tory and Labour ministers refused to accept publicly that repeated exposure to them could cause irreparable damage – because, it seemed, any public admission that they were as dangerous as the HSE had found them to be might trigger off a major scandal resulting in tens of millions of pounds of compensation claims”.

A more high-profile victim (see illness), former sheep farmer Margaret Mar (right), a life peer in the House of Lords, has spent three decades campaigning in Westminster on the issue.

She said: “I know from private discussions with an advisor at the Department of Health that officials knew about the risks, but couldn’t publicly criticise OPs because they were a government-recommended dip at that time”.

An campaign by the Sheep Dip Sufferers’ Support Group, co-ordinated by Tom Rigby, organic dairy farmer and chair of NFU’s Organic Forum, has an exceptionally accurate and informative website, with a balanced approach, useful links and well-documented interviews and reports with the political establishment – recording reasonable interaction with MPs like Andy Burnham, George Eustice and Paul Tyler.

They deserve the last word:

“We are a group of volunteers campaigning for better diagnosis and treatment for all those affected by organophosphates used in agriculture. We have no membership subscription or outside funding and rely mostly on the collective experience of those who have been bravely battling against the devastating effects of these chemicals for decades.

“We hope 2018 will be the year when the farming community comes to realise the impact these insecticides have had on those involved in disease control and that they finally start to get the help and support they urgently need”.

 

 

Republished from Political Concern

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Sheep dip sufferers support group update

19 Apr

Following the 2015 post on this website, comes news from Warrington farmer Tom Rigby, co-ordinator of the Sheep Dip Sufferers’ Group, who sent a press release reporting that HSE had released details of their 1992 Sheep Dipping Survey which may be seen on their website – the report here and appendix here.

Readers new to this subject may first wish to read the full history on the group’s website.

HSE identified 700 farmers in 16 different regions of GB (385 in England, 155 in Scotland and 160 in Wales) broadly typical of the whole and 696 surveys were completed. There were 160 occasions described where some form of ill-health occurred after dipping, only three of which had been reported to MAFF/VMD. If this was representative of UK’s 90,400 sheep flocks it suggests over 20,000 cases nationwide.

Northern Farmer 2editorial

HSE’S Epidemiology and Medical Statistics Unit suggested a better way of expressing these findings were as “a crude incident rate of 8.9 self-reported illness episodes per 1000 dippers per annum”. This suggests a total of over 33,000 for MAFF’s compulsory dipping years 1976-92. Mr Rigby comments that trying to calculate incident rate this way almost certainly gives an under-estimate due to what is known as the ‘healthy worker’ effect as it ignores fatalities and those too ill to continue working (similar to trying to estimate road traffic incidents over 10 years just by interviewing current drivers).

Cumulative exposure

sheep dip peter tyrerHis testimony: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jkQQl68ltYk

Tom Rigby says: “Whatever the precise figure it does seem by 1992 HSE were aware of the devastating effects dipping was having on the health of sheep farmers. We believe this is the reason MAFF ended compulsory dipping in June that year (something they have always denied) and we request disclosure of correspondence between HSE and MAFF in the weeks prior to that decision being taken”.

The initial results of this HSE study were published as a news release dated 20th July 1993 with the title “HSE SURVEY CONFIRMS POOR WORKING PRACTICES DURING SHEEP DIPPING”. It highlighted “dippers hands or feet were used to immerse sheep on 48 farms” (7% of the total) and the head of HSE’s Livestock National Interest Group, (the sponsors of the report) said “this survey has confirmed our view of where the problems lie”.

Northern Farmer 2 SDS questionsHowever now we have sight of the survey in full there seems to be no correlation between dipping practice and reports of ill-health. 662 farmers, including those using hands and feet, account for proportionately fewer cases than 17 contract dippers who were exclusively using dipping aids.

It said, “Although contract dippers made up only 2.4% of the total they accounted for 10.6% of incidents”. This suggests the greatest single factor seems to be cumulative exposure. Many farmers were not aware of danger of cumulative exposure through inhalation until alerted by this piece in the Farmers Weekly fifteen years later. It is now accepted by HSE but not by DEFRA.

As the contract dippers were also found to be wearing better protective clothing than farmers the main route of exposure might have been inhalation, but face masks were not issued. The shortcoming of protective clothing available at the time is discussed on this audio clip from Countryfile from 1992.

There was no attempt in the survey to try to correlate ill-health with different chemicals used when dipping, apart from the observation that some farmers noticed less problems using non-OP dips. One main conclusion of the report was “Farmers need to be encouraged to substitute a hazardous product (OPs) with a less hazardous product (non OP)”. Sadly however for the last 23 years the ill-health of farmers affected has been ignored; all non-OP have been taken off the market leaving OPs as the only products available for dipping.

We include snapshots from the Northern Farmer’s March edition, which mentioned the work of the group in its front page story, the main feature inside and an editorial (above, centre) calling for an inquiry, listing three questions (above left) to which the group wants answers.

 

At last: some open official recognition of the damage to health done by organophosphates

23 Feb

op sheriff payneAn inquiry into the death of Richard Westgate, a British Airways pilot, by Stanhope Payne, senior coroner for Dorset, officially recognises the damage done by organophosphate (OP) compounds in aircraft cabins. Five years ago government’s failure to admit this danger and change procedures was highlighted in Political Concern: Bad decisions by government – 11c: permitting toxic chemicals in the home, in aeroplanes, in agriculture and in warfare.

john hoyteFormer pilot John Hoyte, Chairman of the Aerotoxic Association, who experienced the devastating effects of Aerotoxic Syndrome, writes ”We believe it is the air travel dimension of OPs that is keeping it from being admitted – millions of people being daily exposed and getting ‘jetlag’.”

Many sheep farmers have suffered serious physical and mental health problems linked to exposure to OP- based sheep dips, which for many years they were legally compelled to use.

Action is long overdue, as may be seen in eight articles on the Chemical Concern website. There is a pressing need for greater awareness and recognition of their condition by government and doctors. See Paul Wright’s case:(link no longer working 15.4.16) but see FWI account of this case and of the missing document mentioned at the end of this article.

op paul wright

In 2015, the Farmers Guardian headlined the sheep dip sufferers’ continuing fight for justice. With OPs used in sheep dip from the 1970s onwards, campaigners claimed there were potentially thousands of farmers affected by OP poisoning. Sheep dipping was required by law and farmers explained there were few or, in some cases, no health and safety guidelines accompanying the chemicals.

It reported the launch of the Sheep Dip Sufferers Support Group aimed at raising awareness of the issue.

brenda with flowers

The meeting was attended by Brenda Sutcliffe, Littleborough, Rochdale, who has campaigned tirelessly for justice regarding OPs and has long claimed the chemical contributed to the death of her husband, Harold.

Most of those involved in the group had to give up farming due to illness as a result of OP poisoning. The scandal, branded ‘one of the biggest medical cover ups in history’ by members of the newly-formed, has been brought to the attention of MPs, including Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham who advised those campaigning for justice regarding organophosphate poisoning to form a single group in order to have a stronger, unified voice.

Warrington dairy farmer Tom Rigby, who is not an OP sufferer but has had a pivotal role in the formation of the group, said: “The group is for awareness. Officially the problem does not exist so we want people to see it does exist. There is a reluctance to diagnose.” Mr Rigby, who was at the initial Sheep Dip Sufferers Support Group event in Gisburn, Lancashire, last week, said awareness and help for people suffering with a disability was standard in today’s society but there was little awareness of people sensitive to OPs.

op video tom rigbyWatch video online here

On the Political Concern website: the incriminating sheep dip poisoning HSE report – officially destroyed – has now been revealed.